ADVENT 2, B
2Peter 3:8-15a, 18
A good portion of this sermon is taken from a sermon I preached in 2002. If you’re annoyed with hearing it again, please let me know.
Advent is a time of waiting, a time of quiet reflection, a time of repentance, and a time of anticipation. The Advent readings reflect all of these and more. John the Baptist comes preaching repentance – that it is time to turn back to God and righteous living. He fills us with anticipation of the greater one to come.
Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus, for the arrival of God in our midst. It’s not surprising that it also becomes a time to look forward to the Second Coming, when Christ will return.
So we hear apocalyptic messages like the one in 2 Peter, where the heavens pass away with a loud noise and the elements are dissolved in fire. But it is important to remember that such language is meant to signify huge changes and not to be taken literally. “We wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
Imagine, for a moment, a world, a city, a neighborhood where righteousness is the way of life. Talk about a new creation! Who needs fireworks?
As the writer of Peter points out himself, the key question is “What sort of persons ought you to be” while you wait? His answer is that we must strive to be at peace and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.
The passages that jumped out at me this week point in the same direction but in a less obvious way. Isaiah says:
All people are grass
Their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
But the word of our God will stand forever.
Peter says: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”
These quotes sent me rooting through the Psalms where I found this in Psalm 90:
You turn us back to dust and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. . . .
The days of our life are seventy years,
Or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
Even then their span is only toil and trouble
They are soon gone, and we fly away. . .
So teach us to count our days
That we may gain a wise heart.
Here is a theme, or better, a plea for Advent. O Lord, teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Make us mindful of how fleeting our life on earth is in the scheme of things, so that we can be grateful for each day, no matter what it brings.
This sort of mindfulness is what I get from my encounters with the universe. One of these cold still nights put on a jacket and boots and go outside, even for a few minutes, and look at the sky. You can see the constellation spread across the dome of the sky like a starry rug. Consider the enormity of the universe and your miniscule place in it. Ask the question “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Or woman either, for that matter. Hopefully you will return to your house feeling a sense of joy.
Continue the questions. What are my troubles in the vastness of interstellar space? What is my sorrow in a thousand years of history? How horrible is my pain in the light of such beauty? Can you watch the seasons change and imagine your life will not? Can you watch the flowers die and still believe you won’t?
So many people in this country live in cities, surrounded by concrete and man-made things. We hide ordinary death in hospitals and splash horrible death on the screen. We live in a country that has not experienced war, up close and personal, for over a hundred years.
Are these some of the reasons our culture seems to suffer from certain illusions? The illusion of security I’ve talked about before, but we not only thing we’re safe, we now thing we’re entitled, as Americans, to be safe. We think money can buy us safety. It’s clear from what’s happened since the 9/11 event challenged that illusion, that we also think our safety is more important than feeding hungry children or funding education for all our children.
If you think I’m exaggerating, look at how much money is being spent on airport security alone, while welfare and education and minimum wage increases wait at the chopping block – in spite of the fact that all that money is not going to buy us the assurance of safety.
Nothing will; nothing can. Life is one risk after another. What happened on 9/11 was terrible, but there are other families who loose their breadwinner every day and get no help at all. Every day there are families who bury their children.
We were aghast at the pictures of people jumping from the WTC and rightly so. Why weren’t we equally aghast at the pictures of people hacked to death by their neighbors in Rwanda? Or women stoned to death by the Taliban?
I’m afraid it’s because we see the WTC victims as Americans – that that somehow makes them more important, more significant than the others. But what did Isaiah say?
“All people are grass.”
And as Steve Schaitberger used to say to us, “What part of all don’t we understand?”
All people are grass. None of us lives long. All of us are subject to wind and weather, to flood and drought, and to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We cannot change that. We can only choose how to be while we live — how to be, how to act, and how to respond to the vagaries of our lives.
We can put our trust in locks, security systems, money, bank vaults, popularity, good looks, brains, or power. But they will fail us, as all human things do. The question is not, “How do I stay safe? Or how do I beat the system?” The question is “How do I want to live whatever life I have?”
Do I want to live in peace or do I want to live in strife? Do I want to grow in grace or grow in anger? Do I want to increase in wisdom or in foolishness? Do I want to take revenge or give love?
Listen again to Isaiah:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth. . . .
He gives power to the faint
And strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary
And the young will fall exhausted,
But those who wait for the Lord
Shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up with wings like eagles
They shall run and not be weary.
They shall walk and not faint.
It boils down to this one question. Whose promises do you trust?
Let us pray:
May the power of God infuse our lives with his peace and grace and energy as we wait in patience and hope for his arrival in Bethlehem. Amen